Alan Moore at the Prince Charles cinema last week
In the 25 years since I first interviewed him, Alan Moore has progressed from indifference to Hollywood to outright hostility. He used to entertain bewildered execs to a coffee or pizza at his Northampton local before politely sending them back to LA. He was happy to meet Terry Gilliam to give him his advice on how he would adapt Watchmen. [His advice, distilled: “I wouldn’t.”]
He was relatively sanguine about the adaptation of From Hell starring Johnny Depp, but The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tipped him over the edge. Not only was it, to use the technical film term, a heap of steaming ordure, it landed Moore in court for ten hours of testimony on a plagiarism charge. The alleged plagiarism concerned elements in the film script that were absent from the graphic novel, and the case was settled out of court, but Moore was scarred by the experience. He insisted on removing his name from subsequent films such as V for Vendetta and Watchmen, and donated all payments to his artist co-creators.
So it’s quite a turnaround to see him associated with not just one, but two film projects.
The first is a graphic novelisation of Fashion Beast, a screenplay commissioned from Moore by Malcolm McLaren in the ‘80s. The second is a series of interlinked short films, the first two of which were shown last week at a Q&A session at London’s Prince Charles cinema. I’ll talk about the films in a subsequent post, but first, let’s hear from the man himself.
Resplendent in a purple velvet jacket, as articulate as ever and twice as funny, Alan Moore talked about immortality, magic and pornography… and sang us a song about “Alan Moore, Hitler and God”. So here are the ten things we learned from Alan Moore:
1. He’s written a new 24-page Bojeffries Saga set under Gordon Brown’s government, out in February. “The Bojeffries Saga was always special to me, it was actually about something really close to my heart, which is how extraordinary working-class life is. Or mine, anyway. You see these factories with strange names and blue shavings that smell funny and do things like light filliping, and you think, what is that? Is that a thing? And even the people working there don’t seem to know. [NB: Moore himself once worked in a slaughterhouse.] The streets where I live are much stranger than anything I could write.”
2. It’s all about place. “These days I think it’s all about place. The writers I like best are focusing on where they are. Even HP Lovecraft, who I’m very involved with at the moment – I’m walled in by his books like in The Cask of Amontillado – was obsessed by place, trying to express the New England he saw around him.”
3. Why adults like comics. “I know there were these newspaper articles in the ‘80s saying ‘Bam! Sock! Pow! Comics have grown up!’ No they didn’t. They met the emotional age of the people, coming the other way. We are not designed to take complexity like the world is now; I can understand why people want to retreat from it to the things they enjoyed as children, in simpler times. But it’s not good for culture. Also I just hate to see people having a good time!” [laughter]
Doc Manhattan in Watchmen: precursor to Alan Moore’s current theories on immortality
4. We are all immortal. “I’m on the last three pages of my novel, Jerusalem, and then I have the epilogue to write. It’s really, really, big, somewhere over half a million words, bigger than the Bible and I hope more socially useful. But the main reason you should have a look at it is that it completely solves the minor problem of death. You’re welcome.
“When I turned 50, I could no longer kid myself I’m a third of the way through my life, so I started thinking about this. And simply put, it’s the idea that we are living in a universe of at least four dimensions. You have a block universe, a solid chunk of space-time, in which everybody’s lives are imbedded forever. There’s a lively quote from Einstein I’ve only recently come across, where he’s consoling the widow of a fellow physician. Einstein said, ‘Death isn’t a big problem to us scientists. We understand the persistent illusion of transience.’ Which is lovely, isn’t it.”
[Note: I’m sure I told Moore about this Einstein quote when discussing Voice Of The Fire some years ago; it’s something my mathematician brother told me way back when, though he relayed it to me as, “Your wife is still alive, but in the past”. I also don’t think what Moore said at the Prince Charles fully explains his thinking – he told me before that it’s to do with perception: time is constant and immutable, it’s only our perception of it that makes it seem linear. His line of thinking seems to me presaged way back in Watchmen by Doc Manhattan, who breaks that linearity and can perceive all time at once.]
Glycon: illustration by Alan Moore, 1994
5. Why he started worshipping a snake-god called Glycon. “The standard approach to consciousness is that it doesn’t exist because science cannot explain it. It’s annoying for scientists to have everything in the universe worked out apart from the very phenomenon they are using to explain these things! Science cannot approach this, so art is a better tool. And then why limit yourself to the sterile and barren perception of consciousness that science can formulate?
“Magic is a different approach to consciousness: the rituals are ways of organising certain conscious experiences. Gods and entities don’t exist in the same physical way that we do, but by treating those concepts as if they exist, we may be reaching some part of our psyche we have not previously had access to. And if that’s all magic is, it’s still pretty good.
“I felt I’d more or less exhausted what I could do with my work while remaining in the boundaries of strict rationality. If I was to go further, I would have to break through into some new territory, and connect up with some writers I really admired who seemed to be visionaries, constructing a reality more real than the reality around us. William Blake was writing this symbolic material in a totally private language to try to illuminate the world that surrounds him.
“One problem with art at the moment as I see it is there is nothing visionary, nothing magical, nothing of the numinous. I believe art is magic and magic is art. If artists saw themselves as magicians, they might do something with real force and meaning, rather than sorry conceptualist stuff, which is empty.
“Conversely, if some of the magic orders around today regarded what they did as art, there might actually be some point to their existence.”
Far from getting Alan Moore locked up, Lost Girls got him on The Simpsons.
6. Lost Girls, his pornographic graphic novel featuring Dorothy from Oz, Wendy from Neverland and Alice from Wonderland, had the opposite effect from that intended: it finally made him “respectable” in the national press. “I thought, ‘Why haven’t they hung us? Why are we still at liberty? What are we paying our taxes for?’ Though I didn’t really want to go to prison. I’m kind of the pretty one.”
7. For someone who’s against “culling the disabled”, Moore is not very kind about Gordon Brown’s disability. “There was some sort of petition to get me one, and I said of course I wouldn’t accept an Honour, and definitely not from a bipolar Cyclops. And that was from a Labour government. I certainly couldn’t from this government. It’s old-fashioned of me, but I kind of think culling the disabled is wrong. To accept an award would be condoning the behaviour of the people who gave it to you.”
8. His many comic awards are now in the bin. “My Mum saw that and said, ‘No, you can’t throw them out’, so she took them in briefly; then she gored herself on one and that was that.”
9. Alan Moore wants to star in a kids’ cartoon. “I’ve always said Northampton is the centre of the universe. Hitler’s invasion plan ended with the capture of Northampton. Also God directed his angels there in the eighth century. So I thought we could all be in a kids’ TV cartoon series called The Dream Team. I even wrote the theme song [singing]:
“Alan Moore, Hitler and God,
Though their friendship may seem odd,
One made space-time, one hates Jews,
One wrote some comics that got reasonable reviews.
Though their friendship may seem weird,
One has a moustache, two have a beard,
One’s a Nazi and one made Hell…
And Hitler and God probably did something as well.”
[Someone has now put the sound-file of Moore singing up on YouTube, here.]
10. Moore actually plays God in his recent short film. See my next blog post for more on that….
Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, by Lance Parkin, is out now on Aurum Press (£20, or £11 on Amazon).
For an interview with Alan Moore on books, magic and where ideas come from, click here. For a review of his shorts, plus comments on them from Moore, click here.